Consensus in a box: Inexpensive coordination in hardware
Consensus mechanisms for ensuring consistency are some of the most expensive operations in managing large amounts of data. Often, there is a trade off that involves reducing the coordination overhead at the price of accepting possible data loss or inconsistencies. As the demand for more efficient data centers increases, it is important to provide better ways of ensuring consistency without affecting performance. In this paper we show that consensus (atomic broadcast) can be removed from the critical path of performance by moving it to hardware. As a proof of concept, we implement Zookeeper’s atomic broadcast at the network level using an FPGA. Our design uses both TCP and an application specific network protocol. The design can be used to push more value into the network, e.g., by extending the functionality of middleboxes or adding inexpensive consensus to in-network processing nodes. To illustrate how this hardware consensus can be used in practical systems, we have combined it with a main-memory key value store running on specialized microservers (built as well on FPGAs). This results in a distributed service similar to Zookeeper that exhibits high and stable performance. This work can be used as a blueprint for further specialized designs.